Tuesday, February 4, 2014
The Magic of Recipes
I like recipes.
I don't mean the result of following a recipe -- I mean the recipes themselves. Oh sure, I like to eat, but that's not what I'm talking about. And I very much like the process of following a recipe. You start off with bits and pieces, and you can end up with something that looks and tastes very different from the bits and pieces. But that's not what I'm talking about, either.
I'm talking about the actual recipes. That lovely list of ingredients, with the cute little abbreviations like t and T and c and oz. Just reading through the ingredients, you get a sense of the potential, and the possibilities. Then you get to the directions. Ahhhh. I love directions. I don't always follow them - yes, I can be a rebel at times. But I do like to read those directions.
I consider myself a collector of recipes, although I will acknowledge that I may come awfully close to being termed a hoarder. But - if you're going to hoard anything, at least recipes don't take up much room. Oh sure, I have cookbooks that I've acquired over the years, but I prefer to collect individual recipes, not cookbooks. Most of my recipes are newspaper articles, or magazine articles, or recipes that people have typed up and sent to me, or even recipes that have been written out by hand.
And when I read a recipe for a dish that I've made before, I am always amazed by the memories that are stirred up. Yes, some recipes are just recipes. When I come across my recipe for Mediterranean Cod, I merely think 'oh yum, I like that one'. But sometimes I'll find myself thinking 'oh! this was the dish I made when the Johnsons came over for dinner, and told us they were pregnant', or 'this was what I brought to the picnic when we got caught in the rain', or even 'oh no, this was the dish that the dog wouldn't eat'.
But then... every now and again .... you find that special recipe. That recipe that takes you way back.
The other day, I started looking for a recipe that I hadn't made in quite some time. I knew the recipe was not in a cookbook... and my recollection was that I'd photocopied it from somewhere. I started off by looking in one of the several 3-ring binders I have... and moved on to the file folder (no, wait, that's just rhubarb recipes), and then to the loose stack of photocopies, and back to one of the binders... and somewhere along the way, an index card fell to the floor. This was an old, yellowed index card, with some unidentifiable spots on it. It was in my handwriting, and was labeled Aunt Rose's Coffee Cake. I hadn't seen that index card in 2 decades.. maybe more, and I hadn't thought of the coffee cake in nearly as long. I have no idea where the card was hiding. If you'd asked, I would likely have told you that I lost it long ago, but there it was.
My Aunt Rose wasn't really my aunt - she was my great aunt... my grandmother's sister. She was a very good cook, but her baking was phenomenal. My Aunt Rose made cakes, and torts, and a jelly roll that people raved about... but my favorite was her coffee cake. I don't recall ever seeing a cookbook in her home, and I don't know if she ever had any written recipes. And although the family members cautioned me that Aunt Rose never shared her recipes, as I was getting ready to leave for college I got up my nerve, and I begged aunt Rose to please, pretty please give me the recipe for her coffee cake.
That was almost 40 years ago. My Aunt Rose has long since passed away. But that stained index card made me a young girl again, sitting in her living room with a cup of tea and a plate with a piece of her coffee cake.
The combination of ingredients and directions that make up a recipe is like a bit of abra cadabra. But the true magic of recipes is in the memories they carry with them.
I made Aunt Rose's coffee cake, and to my delight, it tasted even better than I'd recalled. I ate some, and set the rest aside, for later.
I think I'll go home now, make a nice cup of tea and have another piece of coffee cake, and enjoy some more memories.